If you live in an urban or suburban area, it’s quite likely your garden is a little square-ish shape – not exactly the stuff of garden design fantasies. A rather plain canvas, usually divided into patio/decking with some lawn remaining. But don’t despair – with the right tricks, your handkerchief of a backyard can be transformed into a far less square, more spacious-looking area. To help you do this, here are 5 tips to create an inspiring and roomy square garden design with your box-like plot.
Let’s face it – a square garden with a square lawn isn’t particularly exciting. If you want to jazz things up, try changing your lawn shape – circular, oval or curved irregular shapes will all distract the eye from the box shape, and make your garden appear more creative. Curves and arcs also create more opportunity for interesting borders, beds or small vegetable patches, or for foliage to break up the lawn. However, when using foliage to create visual interest, be wary of shrubs that are likely to grow too vigorously outwards – they will end up turning a compact square garden design into an even smaller one. If you decide to use lawn shapes to break up the square, lawn edging is essential to keep the lines crisp and defined. Have a look at the different options for edging materials (from metal to bamboo to eco-materials) in store.
Introducing differing vertical aspects to your garden will help spruce up its appearance and profile as well as creating more interesting features. You can create a ‘journey’ approach by raising your walkways or perhaps giving your decking some height, perfect for an al fresco dining section. Even a larger structure like a pergola or arch can do the job, as can raised beds around a central lawn. A more natural approach is also effective – a row of small trees or tall plants like delphiniums contrasted with low plants can create interest and intrigue. There are some great varieties of tall border plants on site at Gordale.
Split into sections
If you can take in everything in your garden at first glance, its squareness is going to be immediately obvious. A great method to fix this is to compartmentalise your garden into different sections with different purposes. You can divide using borders, tall plants or trellises. A dining area either right next to the house (for convenience) or at the far end of the garden (for a more getting-away-from-things feel) could be useful, while a shady spot, kids’ play area or small vegetable patch could be useful and easily accomplished.
In too many suburban and urban gardens, the walls or fences are bland or even ugly – they restrict your garden and act as boundaries, without actually adding any visual interest at all. An excellent way to combat this can be to incorporate the boundaries into the design by digging borders at the edge. Planting climbing plants up trellises on a wall or fence will create a more natural and organic feel, and make the garden feel less confined. You could even hang flower baskets or planters on a wall or fence, extending the planting space if your garden is tiny. For a good selection of wall planters have a look in our bedding area.
The Long and Narrow
A very common garden in terraced houses and ground floor flats, the long and narrow rectangular shape gives good depth but not a lot of width for fitting everything in. The good news is they can easily be transformed from uninviting corridors to beautiful oases by following just a few golden rules. It’s become a bit clichéd to talk about ‘spaces’ and ‘rooms’ within a garden, but this works brilliantly with long thin gardens. And their narrowness makes them easier to manage – less daunting than a huge, wide space. So here are some creative tips to get the most out of a long narrow garden design.
Break up into “zones”
An obvious tip to start with but first things first: the essential with a long narrow garden is to break up the space. What you don’t want to do is look straight down to the end. Great in a 100 metres track, less so in creative garden design. Instead, use shapes, plants and structures to create screens. Plants, pergolas, trellises, decking, paving and paths – these can all turn a thin corridor into a series of different areas. A great tip is to use trellis to divide and conquer. Many garden designers prefer these screens to be partial rather than full – letting you catch glimpses of what’s beyond, rather than completely blocking off the section behind them.
Design your outbuilding
The general situation with planning permission in the UK is that a garden building within 2 metres of your boundary should be no taller than 2.5m at its highest point. Otherwise, you need planning permission. Therefore, for owners of long narrow gardens, the low-admin solution is to have a garden building that meets the 2.5m rule. You could opt for traditional summer houses, contemporary workrooms, storage sheds, playhouses or gazebos. Design-wise, a rectangular garden building that takes up the whole width of a narrow garden may painfully emphasise the narrowness, so be creative. For example, a corner cabin can maximise the space available as well as look more interesting than a square-on building. And a modern summer room with tall windows will draw the eyes upwards and distract from the garden’s lack of breadth.
Get creative with Pathways
Don’t have a single path going straight down the garden. You will probably want a way to get right down to the bottom of the garden but if you put in a walkway, however pretty, it will dominate the view from the house. Think instead about creating the rooms and then connecting those rooms – so the shapes you notice are the lovely living spaces you’ve created, not the path down the garden. Slate is an effortlessly chic material choice for your garden path and works just as well in urban, rural or coastal locations. Its silvery tones are modern yet rustic and look great with greenery and grey or blue paintwork.
Flat gardens might look easier to manage, but giving your outdoor space a multi-levelled design (i.e. turn it into a tiered garden) can really make a tremendous visual impact (not to mention what it can mean for your property’s value). Opting for a split level garden is also a great way to tackle an uneven space if you don’t fancy hiring a digger to do some garden levelling, and by building height you are essentially making your garden bigger when you can’t make it wider. You can utilise the different levels for various uses such as a dining area, swing, sandpit or play area, veg patch or raised beds.
The trouble with L-shaped gardens is that the slimmest part of the ‘L’ is often wasted space. Mostly found at the back of your average semi-detached house, the L is designed to give access through a back gate so don’t forget to keep the space clear when arranging your design. You can try and use it to tuck away things you don’t want to see from the patio, such as the bins and shed or a play area. Our advice is to keep the rest of the garden simple and break up the straight lines with a curved patio, borders and lawn to make the most of the space and give it a relaxed feel.
If you don’t need to keep the path clear or make an impact for guests entering from the side, an obvious solution to the part you cannot see is to use this for an outbuilding, such as a greenhouse or shed. Yet, what if you use this little offshoot as an adventure? It could be an invitation to those curious to explore. You could place a beautiful wooden bench at the end of the L and create a quiet haven for yourself or your family. This could be somewhere private to sit and watch the flowers and the bees bumble around.
Use the Corner
With an L-shaped garden you’ve got six corners to play with, and you can create all kinds of attractive displays and nooks with these angles. An L-shape seating area seems obvious, but there are so many different styles, materials and colours to choose from that will make your corner outdoor space look inviting and cosy. We advise making the most of the corner you first see when you enter the garden, either with varied height plants, a trellis and climbing plants or attractive lighting overhead. Don’t forget to add some cover to your seating area using a parasol, sun shade or pergola so you can enjoy it all year round.
Let it Grow
If your garden is quite small, then it is usually better to leave the garden as one whole entity rather than creating two separate little areas. The right angles of an L shape create a rather blocky, square look so one brilliant way to counter this is to create a more natural-looking garden. Meandering paths, water features and ground cover plants will break up the lines and give more of a wild theme. The sweeping curves of gravel and stepping stones draws the eye around the garden and helps make the space look wider and paving with a seating area in the sunniest area of the garden helps act as a nice focal point from inside the house.
A more unusual find, usually the product of shared land or an end house on the street. The awkward shape of these gardens can be seen as an excuse not to bother with design but there are plenty of ways to improve the layout and feel of this angled space. It’s important to assess the things you like about your garden and wish to retain or enhance. Maybe you have a lovely tree, a great view or a beautifully sunny spot – every garden space has its strengths. You can really help yourself by identifying advantages and working with what you have.
Create a Seating Corner
If you’re the owner of a triangular plot, then that far corner may have you bewildered. In fact, perhaps your entire view from the house seems to centre around that rather severe-looking point, and you need to find a way to bring attention elsewhere. Well, as the examples below show, there are a few tricks to make it feel lighter, brighter, and actually useful. For starters, paint surrounding walls or fences in pale hues and encourage foliage to grow up and around them – this will soften the harsh angles. Then, draw the eye to the front of the plot with bold patterns and fun features – we love the tropical vibe of this outdoor sofa. And, if you’re looking for low maintenance garden ideas, you could opt for an artificial lawn behind, instead of the real deal. Finally – add a nifty seat. That way, you can use the corner and admire your garden from a fresh perspective.
Use mirrors to double the space
You’ve got two walls closing in on you, what can you do to open this up? Mirrors, of course! The bigger the better. Hang one up along a wall and not only will it help to bounce the light around, but it will also create an illusion of space – your garden will be instantly doubled!
The designer trick for difficult plot shapes is usually to define a new and more pleasing garden shape within the boundaries. The resulting planting pockets will then help to disguise the existing boundaries. Circles are a bold shape which will create a strong statement and draw the eye from an otherwise awkward shaped plot. One of the most successful garden path ideas is to design one that sweeps around one side of a circular lawn, drawing the eye to an area beyond.
Triangular gardens tend to be overlooked by other houses. But, at least there are plenty of fences and walls to provide planting surfaces that won’t use up precious floor space, as well as providing a canvas for colour and greenery. Ladders are a popular choice for a pot display as they can be placed up against a wall and adorned with pots with very little effort required. You can create a green oasis and much-wanted privacy by extending the height of your boundaries with materials such as trellis or woven willow, which will let through light for an airy effect. Cover with trailing plants such as evergreen clematis, climbing hydrangea and honeysuckle in soft shades of green. This will draw your gaze upwards and make the small space feel bigger.